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CoCo Bubble Tea in Hot Water over Pro-Hong Kong Text on Receipts

Boycotting bubble tea? The popular CoCo Tea company is not so popular on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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One of China’s most popular bubble tea brands is in hot water after one of its Hong Kong shops included an encouraging message to Hong Kong people on its receipts amidst ongoing demonstrations. The company’s apologies are not sufficient, many netizens say.

Popular milk tea company CoCo (CoCo都可) is under fire in mainland China for displaying the text “Go Hong Kong People!” (or: “Add Oil, Hongkongers!”) on the receipts of one of its shops in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.

The receipt, dated June 16, started making its rounds on Chinese social media on August 6. Many take it as a sign that CoCo supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

CoCo also triggered controversy for supposedly listing ‘Taiwan’ as a country in its website’s list of countries where the brand operates, separate from ‘China’.

Some netizens are now vowing to boycott the brand for allegedly supporting both Hong Kong protesters and Taiwan independence.

CoCo is a global bubble tea brand that first opened in Taipei in 1997. Over the past two decades, CoCo has opened over 2000 stores worldwide with locations in countries such as the US, UK, Thailand, Korea, and Australia. It is one of the most popular milk tea chains in mainland China.

On August 9, the tea shop released a statement concerning the controversy. The hashtag “CoCo Statement” (#coco声明#) became the most-searched hashtag on Weibo on Friday, attracting 300 million views.

CoCo stated that the receipt in the Wanchai district shop was altered by the staff of this shop, and that their business is now suspended.

It further alleged that the screenshots of the ‘Taiwan’ listing circulating on social media are actually fake. They do not come from their official website, CoCo stated.

The company also added that “the Hong Kong region is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China.”

At time of writing, the official website of the CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice brand was not accessible.

CoCo is not the first bubble tea shop to trigger controversy this week. Another company, Yifang Fruit Tea, faced online backlash when it closed one of its Hong Kong shops for a day and put up a sign that said: “Stand together with Hong Kongers”.

Many big milk tea brands are Taiwanese; pearl milk tea or bubble tea was first invented in Taiwan in 1988 and has since become an important part of Taiwanese food culture. Over the past decade, the bubble tea craze has also blown over to mainland China (read more here).

Bubble Tea

The Guardian reported on August 8 that the Yifang Fruit Tea controversy also spread to two other bubble tea brands.

In response to the issue, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture of flavored tea on social media, writing that “China’s political power has invaded into various nonpolitical areas” and that “for people living in a society with freedom and democracy, we need to stay on high alert for issues like this.”

Meanwhile, on Weibo, many netizens are not too satisfied with CoCo’s apologies and demand that the brand also shares its statement on Twitter and Instagram – not just on Chinese social media.

Others complain that the company did not use an official seal for its apology statement, and have not indicated how it will handle this controversy.

But there are also those who say this supposed scandal is all a fuss over nothing. “Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with them encouraging Hong Kong people,” one commenter writes.

“Boycotting the stores in China will only hurt the position of Chinese franchise owners,” some Weibo users argue.

This incident shows some similarities to another controversy that occurred in 2018 involving the Taiwanese company 85°C Bakery Café. When president Tsai Ing-wen paid a visit to a Los Angeles chain of the café during her United States trip, mainland netizens accused the company of supporting Taiwan independence.

To read more about general discussions on Chinese social media regarding the Hong Kong protests, check our latest here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

From Teacher to Livestreamer: Ecommerce Move is Game Changer for China’s New Oriental Education

New Oriental is going from classroom to e-commerce. Online shopping has never been more educational.

Manya Koetse

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After laying off 60,000 staff last year, Chinese private education company New Oriental is now offering unexpected new employment opportunities for teachers in the livestream market. Changing e-commerce channels into virtual classrooms, New Oriental has hit the sweet spot with Chinese netizens.

Last year, an unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education sector left many teachers unemployed and worried about their future.

China’s so-called ‘double reduction’ (双减) policy was announced in August of 2021 and targeted “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system. The new regulations imposed strict sanctions on existing private education institutions, forcing them to register as non-profit organizations. Foreign investment in the private tutoring sector was also banned.

One of the companies that was hit particularly hard by this policy is New Oriental (新东方), the largest provider of private educational services in China. Following the crackdown, the company suffered huge losses and dismissed 60,000 employees.

Facing the new regulations, including the ban on for-profit tutoring in subjects on the school curriculum, New Oriental tried to keep its head above water by exploring new markets and ideas within the private education sector. For example, the company launched a special program to train parents on how to tutor their K-12 children themselves. New Oriental called it their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class.

Now, nearly a year later, another initiative by New Oriental has become an online hit. Inspired by the success of livestream e-commerce in China, the tutoring company started its own livestream channels. Although New Oriental already introduced its e-commerce business in late 2021, with founder Yu Minhong (俞敏洪) sometimes hosting the sessions himself, it had not been as much of an online success until it recently introduced bilingual livestream e-commerce sessions.

Now, tutors-turned-sellers are teaching viewers English – or sometimes other subjects – while selling (agricultural) products via the Douyin app. Whether they are selling fruit, rice, or even shrimp, New Oriental’s livestream hosts are grabbing every opportunity to teach their viewers a new word or concept, often using a whiteboard to introduce new vocabulary.

Whatever they’re selling, New Oriental’s livestream hosts make sure it’s educational.

One reason for New Oriental becoming a viral hit is because of Dong Yuhui (董宇辉), who is one of the experienced teachers now selling products online. Dong’s bilingual livestreams are particularly successful among viewers because of his enthusiasm, fluency in English, witty jokes, personal stories, and talent for singing.

Teacher Dong recently had a breakthrough moment with his June 10th livestream, during which he sold bags of rice using English. He has since attracted over nine million viewers. While thanking all viewers for their support in a recent Weibo post, Dong described himself as a “ordinary peasant boy.”

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

Besides Dong, there are also other popular hosts. English teachers Ming Ming, Yoyo, and Dun Dun are all loved by viewers for their charm and wit.

Although various kinds of social e-commerce categories are particularly popular in China, this new phenomenon of combining education + e-commerce + livestream is appreciated by many netizens who like to learn something while being entertained and perhaps also buying something. “I don’t know whether to place an order or to make notes,” has become a popular comment. Another commenter said: “As a kid I took your class, and now I buy your goods.”

Others say that they like the calm way in which the livestreams are presented, posing a stark contrast to other livestreams where the hosts are hyping up products and urging people to buy fast and buy more.

On June 15th, news came out that New Oriental’s stocks had surged by more than 25% following its livestreaming success.

Although some Weibo users predict that this is just a temporary trend, others think that the educational livestream model is here to stay: “New Oriental really started a new business venture, and I’m learning a lot through their livestream sessions.”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

Read related article: China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

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China Books & Literature

Why Is Kindle Leaving China?

Many netizens are not happy over Kindle exiting the Chinese market: “We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

Manya Koetse

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Amazon announced on Thursday that it has stopped supplying retailers in China with its Kindle e-readers and that it will discontinue its Kindle e-bookstore in the Chinese market on June 30, 2023.

Amazon announced its Kindle exit in a statement on its official WeChat account, saying it was because of a shift in the strategic focus of its company’s operations.

For Chinese customers who have purchased e-books through Kindle, they will be able to continue downloading them until June 30 of 2024. Customers who would rather return the Kindle devices they bought in 2022 can get a refund.

On Weibo, the hashtags “Kindle Will Be Discontinued in China Next Year” (#Kindle中国明年停止电子书运营#) and “Why Wasn’t Kindle Able to Make It in China?” (#为什么Kindle在中国活不下去#) were hot topics on Thursday and Friday.

Some commenters said they were upset about Kindle being discontinued in China: “Why why why!! I really like Kindle and their e-bookstore, I check for interesting and new books on sale on a weekly basis. Which e-reader and e-bookstore are suitable substitutes?”

“Zhangyue, Hisense, Huawei, Onyx Boox, Tencent, Readmoo,.. there are actually a lot of brands,” one person responded, but some others said they still preferred Kindle.

“What do I do with my Kindle now? Just use it to cover my noodles?”

In 2021, Amazon’s Kindle was among the most popular e-book brands in China. Besides Amazon’s Kindle, China’s most popular e-reader brands include Onyx Boox, iFlytech, Zhangyue, Xiaomi, Hanvon, Tencent, Boyue, Obook, and Sony (see list).

Some commenters wrote that they understand that companies such as Amazon have to make some tough choices after facing pandemic-related setbacks in China, while there were also many netizens who blamed Kindle’s China exit on Chinese consumers illegally downloading pirated books instead of buying them at the Kindle store.

Others said that Kindle e-bookstore prices were often about the same as paper book prices, making the latter more appealing to people who like to read, especially if they also like to make notes in their books. In other words, they say the Kindle e-bookstore is simply too expensive for the Chinese market, where consumers can find many other options, both paper and digital ones.

“It’s not so complicated,” one Weibo user wrote: “It’s all because of market competition reasons. Kindle is facing the impact of Tencent’s influence on the e-reading market.”

Some people are really disappointed that the books they have bought through Kindle will become unavailable to them, and some wondered if this was legal with regards to consumer rights.

One popular economic blogger wrote: “Kindle has now withdrawn [from China]. Many years ago, when different kinds of online storage spaces starting closing down, I learned one thing: never fully trust internet storage services. Your study material, the things you wrote, your video records, you need to back them up. We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

By Manya Koetse

Image via Weibo

Featured images by Weibo blogger @钟文泽.

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